Vancouver is cold, and I don't mean rainy.

Every once in a while I pick up one of the local daily papers and read the dating columns. If you've ever read one of these in the Vancouver area then you know that one of the number one criticisms of Vancouver singles is that it's incredibly hard to meet people here. In my experience, it's been equally hard to build on any sort of relationship, even if only a friendship . Relationships in Vancouver, for some reason, are often very impersonal.

A friend and I were discussing that this evening. Nobody seems to be able to explain it, but most people seem to agree that when it comes to the people, Vancouver is a very cold city. That's certainly been my impression, and it's one of the primary factors that will ultimately keep me from ever settling down here for good. Eventually, when the time is right, I know I'll move to a new city. Because ultimately I just don't like Vancouver, no matter how much I want to. It's the people that make a city, and my experience has been lacking in that respect. I've met some great people and made some great friends, but there always seems to be a closeness lacking here that I've had with past relationships in other cities.

An aside to illustrate my point: I went to a house party last night. There was an interesting guy there from Sweden who had only met the party host perhaps days, or maybe even hours, before. Through a brief case of mistaken identity, he had met some people I know. But instead of letting the encounter pass, he had pursued them, told them they seemed friendly, and suggested that they hang some time. And so here he was at the house party. This kind of thing does not, in my experience, ever happen in Vancouver. People generally aren't this forward and friendly. But I guess when you've moved to a new country where you don't know anybody you have to make friends somehow. I think a lot of us could learn something from this guy.

I'm sure there are lots of people who would disagree with what I'm saying here. And in my case I'm sure that some of this perceived coldness probably falls upon me and how I deal with people in my life. Maybe the city isn't all that impersonal at all. Maybe I've just removed myself a step or two from the rest of society. Maybe I'm the one that's being impersonal. But I know that it wasn't always the case, and I wonder what's different. What changed?

The friend I was talking with got me thinking about it. How and why have I changed the way I respond to the people I meet since I moved here? What keeps me treading that fine line been friend and acquaintance? And how come chance meetings with strangers always seem to stop there?

I think part of it is technology. Communications technology especially has become more and more advanced and become more ingrained in day-to-day life over the last 10 years. We have cellphones, internet chat, VOIP telephones, video messages, e-mail, text messages, MSN, Facebook, Blackberry messenger...

And the more ways I'm given to communicate, the more I find I'm doing less of it, or doing more of it with a significant decrease in the quality of communications.

I would estimate that 75% of my regular communications with friends these days is done via MSN, text, or e-mail. When you're limited to text-based commication mediums, you tend to pare information down to only the basic essentials of a message. All the flavor and fluff tends to get left behind in favor of speed and efficiency. Nobody wants to write a book about their life into a chat box 150 characters at a time. A conversation about your feelings just isn't any easy thing to carry out over instant messages or cell texts.

There was a time when I spent a lot of time on the telephone talking with friends. I made a point of calling them and chatting for as little as 5 minutes and as long as a few hours. I hardly do that anymore, and I miss it. I'm not sure why I stopped, but I definitely think that my relationships with my friends were much better when I did. These days I get daily updates via MSN status, facebook updates, and twitter about what my friends are up to. And I like to think that this is keeping me up to date on what's going on in their lives. But that personal element is still missing.

This is probably also a major contributing factor to my perpetual singledom.
(I'm sure there are plenty of other factors, but let's not dwell on that.)

It turns out that building and maintaining relationships takes work and a bit of effort. And it seems like all the technology in my life provides an illusion of ease and convenience, while actually making the situation worse.

The aforementioned friend and I have been talking a lot lately. We can talk to each other for hours, and often do almost nothing else. In fact, just this evening we stood in a parking lot for almost 2 hours chatting under the street lights, well after the movie we saw had let out. And it's been very refreshing. Of all the relationships I have with people, these are the kind I value most.

Another sidenote: We had just seen "The Social Network". Conversation was not about the movie, but there's an interesting juxtaposition in that.

So I'm trying to be more conscious of how I respond to people. I'm trying to make more of an effort to show an interest in the people around me and their lives. It's fairly apparent to me that I've become rather insular since I've come to Vancouver, and I think it's time that I change that. Though it will take some considerable effort on my part to change my habits, it's time to open myself to those around me. And maybe if I do I'll learn to like the city a little more.

Of course, it's not just me. I've had similar conversations with quite a few people about this, and there's certainly a consensus on the issue. It seems like the whole of Vancouver could benefit from a change in habit.

So maybe all we need to do is get off the internet, switch off our cellphones, and talk to each other. With our voices, and with our hearts.


Anonymous said...

These are mostly excuses, e.g. technology, having lived in 5 cities and yes other places have cell phones, facebook etc LOL! I can assure you vancouverites are reserved, dull, unfriendly, cliquey and uptight. I leave in a month I cant wait

Sarah said...

I feel ya! Even though I'm not in Vancouver...I'm recently feeling like the person with a lot of friends she doesn't really know anything about. Which seems surprising given the multitudes of "social" media choices around us, hey?

Hope you're finding December a little bit warmer than October.